Blog Archives

Leap of Faith: A Homeschooling Story

With summer officially over now, or mostly anyway, it’s beginning to feel like it’s time to get back to work. Not that this summer wasn’t a busy one — it definitely was. In spite of this, I was able to squeeze in some time to stretch my creative boundaries and explore a bit, so I wanted to share the results with you as I ease back into a more normal writing schedule.

Specifically, I wanted to share a digital story I made (don’t worry, it’s short!) about how we came to be a homeschooling family. I hope you enjoy it and, just maybe, will be inspired to share your story, too!

 

 

 

 

Lori Dunlap worked for almost twenty years in the corporate world, first as a management consultant to Fortune 500 companies, and then at a large research university as a program director, admissions committee member, and adjunct faculty.  She has homeschooled her two boys since 2011, and recently published her first book, “From Home Education to Higher Education”, published by GHF Press in 2017. You can connect with Lori and find more information about college admissions for homeschoolers at: www.uncommonapplicant.com

The Most Important Skill?

The Most Important Skill_I’ve been feeling terrible these past few weeks – antsy, unfocused, unmotivated. Almost nothing I planned to work on has been touched, let alone finished – no writing, no reading any of the books in my stack, no house organization projects. Mostly I’ve chalked it up to the busyness that came with the end of the school year — final projects, graduation ceremonies, performances – quickly followed by planning for summer camps, holidays, and vacations. And while it’s true that the family schedule has been more packed than usual, it’s not enough to explain this level of agitation I’ve been feeling.

Plus, if I’m totally honest, as I look back over the past few weeks, I’ve had plenty of time to spend on non-productive things like browsing the summer clearance sales on my favorite shopping sites and re-watching movies I only sort of enjoyed the first time, not to mention the many hours spent falling down multiple online rabbit holes. Clearly the cause of this restlessness has been more than just being too busy, and now it has also become a vicious cycle – the ignored to-do list has lead to more anxiety and agitation, which has lead to more distraction and avoidance, and so the list keeps growing…

Enough! But what to do?

This morning I made a commitment to myself that I would only spend one hour clearing out my email while I drank my coffee, and then I would get off the computer and force myself to do some house-related projects. Maybe I just need some momentum, some physical activity. Fortunately for me, however, by some miracle one of the things in my email was this article by Zat Rana, “The Most Important Skill Nobody Taught You”, which I think provided the insight I need to break out of this cycle.

What’s the skill?

It’s solitude. Or more precisely, sitting in silence, without distraction because, “That’s when you’ll hear yourself think, and that’s when you’ll learn to engage the parts of you that are masked by distraction.”

Of course.

It’s so frustrating to have to be reminded of something I used to know. I’ve had an on-and-off meditation practice for several years now, and it’s no coincidence that I’m currently in an “off” phase and have been for quite a while. Why is it so easy to get knocked off a path that we know is good for us? To lose healthy habits? I don’t know the answer, but I know for me that compulsive thinking – checking email, managing family logistics, looking for the next problem to solve – is addictive, even though I realize that giving into my monkey mind makes me feel anxious and exhausted.

So, here’s my plan. For the next six weeks I’ll be throttling back on everything I had planned to do, deferring everything but the most essential tasks until September. I’m going to spend more time reading, meditating, creating, and pondering the clouds and trees. It’s time to reconnect with the things that are most important, to sit quietly and let my mind settle. If I stumble across anything important I may write about it and share it here, but it’s also possible that it may be a few weeks before I sit down at the keyboard again. I just don’t know what the next few weeks hold… but I’m already feeling better!

 

 

A Butterfly Story

Have you heard that story about the man watching the butterfly as it tries to break out of its chrysalis? It’s a short story, and you can read the full version here, but what eventually happens is this: after watching the butterfly struggling to break free for some time, the man decides to help by cutting open the chrysalis so the butterfly doesn’t have to continue exerting itself, to continue spending so much energy emerging from its enclosure. His intention was to assist this beautiful creature in its transition. However, the unintended result is a tragedy – the butterfly emerges with weak and unformed wings, never able to fly.

To reach its full potential, the butterfly needed to struggle so it could strengthen its wings and live its full butterfly life.

I’ve heard this story several times before, and when I came across it again recently, it pulled me up short, the moral of the story resonating with me in a much more significant way than it ever had before. I saw myself in the man, and my sons in the butterfly. With both of my boys now in the beginning stages of their own emergence, transitioning from the warm and protected life of our family to the larger world outside of it, the parallels are clear, including the man’s eagerness to help. The lesson is also clear: struggle is an essential part of growth.

Unfortunately, that’s not an easy lesson for this particular parent.

Last week my oldest son and I were researching and talking about the colleges he may want to apply to. He was focused, but kind of quiet, not really “leaning in” to our conversation or the web sites we were exploring. So, I asked him what was up, thinking maybe he wasn’t excited about the schools we were looking at or he was confused by something. He paused for a moment, and then slowly responded, “I don’t know how I’m going to make this decision. I’m afraid I’m going to make a mistake and choose the wrong college or the wrong major.” I shouldn’t have been surprised. In fact, I silently berated myself because I should have seen this coming.

My son, this almost-man, has always been a careful, even reluctant, decision maker (taking him to a toy store to choose something for his birthday was a form of torture for him when he was younger), so I have become accustomed to stepping in and offering my opinion and guidance in these situations to help move things along and minimize the discomfort. That day last week was no different. Making suggestions, laying out the pros and cons (at least as I saw them), listing the factors to consider – I jumped right into the void and did what I have always done:  I reached for the scissors.

And now I see that I need to stop doing that.

I need to let him struggle, to figure out what’s important to him without my input or interference. I’ve written recently about the need to trust that things will turn out okay, and now I am realizing that patience is an important part of trust. Not only do I need to give my boys the freedom to set their own priorities and make their own choices, trusting that they have the tools they need, but I also need to let them do it on their own schedule, even (and especially) if that includes some struggling and uncertainty.

This sounds simple, even to me, and is likely obvious to other parents who have done a better job of trusting and being patient than I have. In all honesty, though, this represents a significant shift for me, and I don’t think it’s going to be easy. When I was growing up, I often felt that my parents didn’t care much about what was going on in my life, and I don’t recall that they played any role at all in the decisions I made through high school – class selections, test prep, clubs and sports, and college choices were all on me. When my boys were born, I consciously decided to do some things differently than my parents did, but it’s possible that I “over-corrected” on some things.

Looking back over the years since my boys were young, I see that backing off and leaving some space is something I should have done more of. I probably should have stayed out of the toy aisle and let him ponder his options on his own, allowing him to build more confidence in making his own choices. Yes, selecting a college and a major are much bigger decisions than a birthday gift selection, and parents do have a role to play in these decisions, but I need to be in the passenger’s seat (or maybe even the back seat), not the driver’s seat. I need to trust that he can figure out his own lists of pros and cons, prioritize the things that matter to him, and make his own spreadsheets of school information. As of today, I’m putting the scissors away and recommitting to my own transition – becoming a more trusting and patient mom who can enjoy looking up and watching her boys flying high on the strength of their own wings.

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Lori Dunlap worked for almost twenty years in the corporate world, first as a management consultant to Fortune 500 companies, and then at a large research university as a program director and adjunct faculty member.  She is now pursuing her long-held interests in research and writing, and recently completed her first book about college admissions for homeschoolers, “From Home Education to Higher Education“, published by GHF Press in 2017.

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What Does it Mean to be a Homeschooler?

When I first created the “Teach Your Own” site, my intention was that it would be a source of information and inspiration for other homeschooling families like mine – those who were looking for ideas and insights to help them along the uncommon, sometimes-bumpy, homeschooling path. For the first few years, that is exactly what it was, and I loved sharing my experiences and “wins” while learning about the journeys of other families, too. As my two boys grew into teenagers, though, and as the homeschooling adventure became more predictable and less dependent on me to direct it, I found that thinking and writing about homeschooling, especially the daily and more detailed aspects of it, became less of a priority.

Over time, my focus has shifted from the short-term, tactical considerations of homeschooling, to the more long-term, strategic planning necessary to help my older son prepare for college. New projects have begun to take more of my time and attention, including researching and writing a book about college admissions for homeschoolers and creating a new “virtual college fair” to support non-traditional students planning to apply to college. Both have become true passion projects for me and have given me the opportunity to connect with homeschooling families in a whole new way.

Which is why this past winter I began to think about closing this site.

The issue is not just one of time limitations, but also the realization that I feel less like a homeschooling parent than I used to. As a junior in high school, my older son is managing his education independently now, taking his core classes at the local community college and pursuing his personal interests through online elective courses and local extracurricular activities. My younger son, who discovered a passion for musical theater several years ago, auditioned and was accepted into a boarding performing arts high school, which he will begin attending this fall. In short, with both of my boys taking the reigns of their education now, my days of choosing curriculum, planning projects, and scheduling field trips has come to an end.

So, am I a homeschooling parent anymore? What does it mean to be a homeschooler, anyway?

I’ve spent quite a bit of time grappling with these questions recently. Homeschooling has been more than just an educational choice – it’s been a lifestyle choice, too, with “school” and “life” often blending seamlessly. (I know this is true for other families, too – how often have we laughed at stories about struggling to answer the store clerk’s question about what grade our kids are in? Or what classes they’re taking at school?) Even though the “schooling” part of the homeschooling equation has changed, the “home” part, including the strong family bonds we have woven over years of shared time and experiences, is still very much intact.

As I reflect on these aspects of our journey thus far, it strikes me that homeschooling is really more of a mindset than anything else, one deeply rooted in the core values of family connection, commitment to personal and intellectual growth, and respect for individual choices. Regardless of how a family chooses to formally educate their children, if they are embracing opportunities for their children to explore and pursue their own interests, fostering a love of learning and a sense of independence and ownership in their education, and cultivating curiosity and creativity, might they not be considered members of the homeschooling community, too? Homeschooling is already a rather large umbrella, encompassing all types of approaches to learning and growth, so maybe it’s useful to stretch its boundaries slightly further to include a few more.

With this perspective, I have decided to maintain my “membership” in the homeschooling community as I continue to advise and guide my boys’ education, albeit at more of a distance than before. And I have also decided that I will continue to keep “Teach Your Own” running, but with a slightly different focus. Now it will be more of a “transition travelogue”, sharing our successes and struggles as my boys evolve from self-directed learners at home, to young adults venturing out into the world with a new level of independence and merging into more mainstream pursuits. What has their non-traditional educational background provided that will serve them well? What other tools do they still need to add to their travel kit? I’ll let you know.

So, I’ll be spending more time around here in the coming weeks and months with stories of adventure and insight. I hope you will stop by from time to time when you have a moment. Better yet, pour a cup of tea, pull up to the table, and share your stories of transitions and change, too. It’s always nice to know we are not alone in our journeys, lonely as they may seem sometimes. And, with any luck, maybe we can help each other prepare for some of the inevitable potholes and detours along the way, too.

 

Lori Dunlap worked for almost twenty years in the corporate world, first as a management consultant to Fortune 500 companies, and then at a large research university as a program director, admissions committee member, and adjunct faculty.  She has homeschooled her two boys since 2011, and recently published her first book, “From Home Education to Higher Education”, published by GHF Press in 2017. You can connect with Lori and find more information about college admissions for homeschoolers at: www.uncommonapplicant.com

Happiest Homeschooling Moments: A Reflection

Like many other students around the country, my youngest son will start school in a few weeks – not homeschool, actual school, the kind with teachers and whiteboards, and a gym that smells like a clingy mix of sweaty bodies and floor polish. And his first day of school, just over three short weeks from now, will be the first time he’s stepped foot into a classroom as an enrolled student since the middle of his 1st grade year, almost seven years ago.

Needless to say, I have mixed feelings about this.

Mostly I’m excited for him because this is his choice, one of the first significant decisions he’s made for himself. My husband and I have always told the boys that homeschooling was a choice, and they could make a different choice at any time, but I don’t think either of us really believed they would. My oldest son plans to continue homeschooling through high school, so for my younger son to choose a different option is a big deal. We both support and understand his choice, though, because he’ll be going to a great school, one where the teachers and staff are incredibly warm and accepting, who will be able to challenge him academically while teaching him ways to manage through some of the difficulties he faces with dyslexia. It’s a good choice and a good plan.

But it’s not all sunshine and lollipops.

Amidst the happiness, I’m also feeling quite nostalgic. Homeschooling has allowed our family to spend lots of time together and develop incredibly close bonds with each other, and now an important chapter in our family’s story is coming to an end. And so, even as we prepare for this move forward and the next chapter, I keep finding myself looking back, reviewing the past seven years and examining each of the memorable moments as I would a treasured, precious object, one that I haven’t taken off the shelf to fully appreciate in a while.

A patchy assortment of happy memories spring to mind, of course. We’ve laughed a lot, at each other and ourselves, while exploring countless parks and hiking trails, or creating gooey clay sculptures and muddy paintings. We’ve read and critiqued a ton of amazing books together, and puzzled over numerous math problems. For years, these are the moments that have provided the context for our daily family life and formed the foundation of our relationships as the boys have grown and matured. But none of these first memories to surface are the happiest moments, I realize. Instead, the moments I’ll remember most years from now, that I’ll continue to treasure even when both of my sons are grown and have families of their own, are some of the quieter, unplanned ones that didn’t actually involve laughing or diving into a messy project together, or even being together at all.

For me, the moments when I’ve felt the happiest are the times when I’ve caught a glimpse of the men both of my boys are becoming.

These are the times that have had almost nothing to do with me and any “fantastic” homeschooling plans I’ve come up with, and instead have been entirely about my kids taking the reins on their own learning and making choices that excite them because they’re connected to their interests and bigger goals. The moments are hard to describe exactly, because they’re often fleeting, and almost always unexpected, like when my oldest son disappeared for hours, and later casually showed me a 3-D human figure he’d been modeling and “rigging” (so it can walk and move like a real human) in a software program I’d never heard of and didn’t know he knew how to use, aided by detailed diagrams of human anatomy that he found; or when it dawned on me, as he showed me a spreadsheet to ask a question about modifying formulas, that he had been teaching himself calculus (though he didn’t realize that’s what it was) so he could calculate the trajectory of a spaceship he was designing and wanted to launch in a space simulation program; or when I read a poem my younger son wrote spontaneously because he just read some Rumi poetry and was inspired. There are countless other examples, and I can’t come close to taking credit for any of them — none were part of any of my plans, and I’m certain that if they had been, they would have failed spectacularly. The only credit I can take is that I’ve learned a very important lesson quite well on this homeschooling journey:  almost always, the best thing I can do is get out of the way.

I resisted this lesson in the early years — I thought that “real” learning could only happen in an environment characterized by academic discipline, supported by the structure of rules and routines, even though strong evidence to the contrary was right in front of me every single day. The intricate stories and artwork they created, and the earnest questions they asked about the world around them, didn’t count (in my mind) as “real” learning.  I cringe now when I think back on those days. The boys were learning every moment of every day, I just didn’t see it, or appreciate it. I wish I could go back and burn each and every one of the daily plans and assignments I created, along with the stacks of textbooks and workbooks I spent countless hours researching and then purchasing. I wish I could go back and tell myself to just trust — trust that nature had already deeply embedded the love of learning in my children, and that all I really needed to do was water it, and maybe pull some weeds from time to time.

This is why it makes me sad when I hear other homeschooling parents ask questions like, “How do I make my lazy son do his school work?” or “How do I deal with my daughter’s defiance when she won’t do what I tell her?”  These parents have missed a beautiful opportunity to create some wonderful and happy memories. They have forgotten that they are raising future adults who need to have the experiences (including making mistakes) and to develop the self-confidence that will help them make their own choices when they are out in the world and don’t have us there telling them what to do. As they grow, our children need our guidance and support, without a doubt, but they also need space to grow their own roots, to flower in their own time when the conditions are right for them — we can’t do it for them, and we’ll just delay their growth process (at best) or undermine the full potential of their development (at worst) if we try.

So, this is why I’m happy for my son as he prepares to head off to school. He’s making a choice that is right for him, and I know that he will take his curiosity, creativity, and self-confidence with him, to a place where the staff and teachers know how to support and encourage without interfering. Homeschooling over these past seven years has allowed him to discover his authentic mix of strengths, interests, and goals, so I am confident that even more happy moments are coming our way.

 

If you enjoyed this post, click on the image below to check our what other homeschoolers have written about their happiest homeschooling moments!

 

 

Let’s Explore Some Homeschooling FAQs

Whether you’ve been homeschooling for just a few days, or you’ve already been at it for many years, at one point or another you’ve probably asked yourself at least one of these homeschooling “frequently asked questions”:

  • How do I make sure my kids learn all the right things?
  • What if I leave out important material?
  • What is the best curriculum for [insert subject name here]?
  • What if my child won’t do his/her work?

I don’t think I’ve met a homeschooling family yet who hasn’t faced these uncertainties at some point along their homeschooling journey. In fact, I think many of us have probably bumped up against these questions multiple times as we gain more knowledge and experience, and as our children reach new phases of development and maturity. The reason you won’t find a printed FAQ with easy answers to these questions, though, is that the answer to all of them (and numerous others) is the same: “It depends.”

One of the primary reasons so many of us have chosen to educate our children at home is because we want them to learn in a way that fits their particular needs and goals, and that allows us to be responsive to our students’ interests and abilities. Once we make this choice, though, we often find that this level of freedom and flexibility is also one of the biggest challenges of homeschooling. There are so many options, so many possible paths, that many of us begin to feel overwhelmed, or afraid to make a mistake, or concerned that our kids will miss out on important opportunities.

This is where learning and personality assessment can be incredibly helpful. Understanding our child’s particular learning preferences and strengths is a great starting point not only for developing our homeschooling plans, but also, as our children get older, for starting to think about post-high school plans, including higher education and career options. One of the most thorough and helpful assessments I’ve found is the one developed by the LearningSuccess™ Institute called the “Self-Portrait™ Power Traits Assessment,” and I recently had the opportunity to interview Mariaemma Willis, a learning specialist at the LearningSuccess™ Institute. (Please note: the above link will take you to a page with more information on this assessment, along with a link for purchasing the assessment at a reduced price.”)

Here are some of the questions I asked, along with Mariaemma’s responses…

 

  1. What are the most important things I need to know to homeschool?

The most important thing you need to know is who the student is. When students are in school, teachers and administrators begin their planning by thinking about things like the curriculum, learning materials, and the physical classroom. The individual students, including their learning preferences and interests, are rarely considered in the planning. As homeschoolers, however, you have the freedom to begin with knowing who the student is, and then all the other decisions can flow from there. And while some parents already have an idea about how their children learn best, sometimes a formal assessment can also be validating, in addition to providing insights about areas you may not have considered, like what the best learning environment might be for them. What’s more, students love learning about themselves, and the results of the assessment can be a great basis for involving your child in the decision-making process.

 

  1. What are some of the areas the “Self-Portrait” assesses?

There are five basic dimensions included in our assessment are:

  • Disposition (personality),
  • Preferred learning modality (auditory, visual, or tactile),
  • Interests,
  • Talents, and
  • Best learning environment.

There are five main dispositions we look at, each of which tends to be pretty stable over time. The best learning happens when we understand that a “spontaneous” student, for example, needs to be able to move around and release physical energy while they’re learning, versus an “imaginative” student who learns best when they can piece ideas and information together for themselves. The first won’t learn well if confined to a chair for much of the day, and the second needs the freedom to explore their thoughts and ideas on their own. The three other types of dispositions include “organized,” “supportive,” and “curious,” each of which requires different types of support and opportunities to accomplish their best learning.

In addition to disposition, knowing how your student prefers to take in information, how to incorporate their interests and talents into their learning plan, and creating an optimal learning environment for them (considering factors like noise levels, lighting type, and social groupings) are each important individually and together as you make decisions about different types of classes, curriculum, and other educational activities.

 

  1. Could learning style information also help with home issues, such as chores?

Yes, because you can match chores with your child’s disposition. For example, if your child has more of a “supportive” disposition, you can ask them to do chores that involve working directly with other members of the family, like helping to make meals. If you also factor in their interests and talents, you can create a list of chores that they’ll be more likely to remember to do, and will do well.

 

  1. Can a learning assessment help me with a child who resists doing school work?

Yes! If a child is balking about doing academic work, it’s a clue that something is going on, and that you may need to find a different approach. The learning assessment is a good starting point, and a learning coach can help you incorporate the results of the assessment into a plan that works for both the parent and the student.

 

  1. How do I know I’m teaching the right things? What if I leave out important material?

Nobody knows for certain if they’re teaching the “right” things, not even experienced teachers. Every school teaches different classes in different ways at different times – nobody teaches all the same things, so there’s no important material you can leave out. As homeschoolers, as long as you teach your children the basics, including understanding and valuing their learning preferences, they’ll have the tools they need to be lifelong learners and will be able to fill in any “gaps” in the future.

 

So, as many of us in the homeschooling community wind down one academic year and begin planning for the next, taking some time to look more closely at our child’s “power traits” could be a great starting point. The LearningSuccess™ Institute would like to help, and is offering two types of support to our community:

  • A reduced-rate learning strengths assessment, and
  • A free teleconference where you can ask Mariaemma questions about how to incorporate your results into your plan for next year.

 

Here’s the link to more information about the assessment and how to get your assessment at a reduced price:

“Self-Portrait™ Power Traits Assessment”*

 

The free teleconference will be on Thursday, May 4th, at 10:00am Pacific. You can join the teleconference even if you choose not to do an assessment — you’ll still be able to ask questions and learn a lot from the conversation! Please RSVP here, and we’ll send you the details on how to call in:

“Teach Your Own” Free Teleconference

(*Please note that the link to the assessment is an affiliate’s link, which means that if you purchase an assessment you will be helping support my work. Thank you!)

Homeschooling Through Chronic Illness

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I was talking to a new homeschooling mom a couple of weeks ago, helping her work through that “What have I done?!” feeling that so many of us homeschoolers have when we first take the leap. I reassured her that almost all  homeschooling parents have experienced that “I just jumped off the cliff” kind of panic, especially at the beginning, and I also told her what I tell everyone who asks me about my choice to pull my kids out of school: It’s the best decision my husband and I ever made.

That’s not an overstatement. My boys are so much happier than they were before, and are truly thriving in a way that I’m certain they wouldn’t be if we’d kept them in traditional school. Other people notice and comment on it, too, even before they know that we’re homeschoolers. I regularly have new acquaintances, or neighbors I barely know, tell me about an interesting discussion they had with one of my boys, remarking on how well they hold a conversation, or how thoughtful and engaging they are. And it’s not just my kids — other homeschooling parents I know have similar stories. I honestly think this is one of the most underrated benefits of homeschooling – kids get to be who they are, and get to relate to other people as they are, without any of the power dynamics and judgments that so many kids experience with adults when they’re in school.

So, I’m a big fan of homeschooling, and will enthusiastically talk to anyone who’s interested about the benefits of this lifestyle. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. In fact, some days it’s really, really hard. And truth be told, there have been several occasions when I seriously considered sending the boys back to school.

You see, along with the normal responsibilities and challenges that come along with being a homeschooling parent, a few years ago another issue was added to the list: I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. This condition makes me feel like I have a bad flu for days, sometimes weeks, at a time, and when my symptoms are at their worst I run a high fever, my joints ache so much I can barely move, I pass out when I take a shower or stand up for too long, and food… well, even the idea of food makes me nauseous. On these days, helping my older son work through algebra problems, or teaching my younger son how to diagram sentences, are tasks that are nowhere close to doable. In fact, simple conversation is barely possible because I’m totally exhausted and easily annoyed. It’s during these times when the normal challenges of interacting with and guiding two highly-sensitive and energetic boys entirely overwhelm me and make me want to throw in the towel.

I adore my boys, and most days I welcome their higher-than-average levels of emotion and desire for interaction. The difficult part of having highly sensitive kids, however, is that their emotional antennas are so attuned – they  pick up on everything, and their highly-active imaginations envision every worst-case scenario. They just need so much reassurance, interaction, and physical touch, it can be exhausting even when my batteries are fully charged. So, on the days when I’m feeling terrible, there’s no missing the worry on their faces the tremble in their voices, and I do my best to put on a happy face (or the happiest one I can muster) and spend precious energy soothing them and trying to calm their fears, insisting again and again that I’m okay, when all I really want to do is yell, “Go away!”

But I can’t, because that would devastate them.

Adding to the difficulty is that I can’t take them to regular music lessons or sports practices — driving is not an option. This means that we’re sometimes stuck in the house together for days at a time, me laying on the couch or in bed feeling like a rusted out old clunker ready for the junk yard, them with minds like race cars revving, ready to go. It’s not a good dynamic.

As the boys have gotten older, though, and as I’ve become more adept at managing my condition, we’ve learned to surf through these difficult days a little more smoothly. We keep our schedule as flexible as possible, not getting too caught up in deadlines or plans we can’t adjust if necessary. They’ve become more independent in some of their work, and focus on the things they can do without my help when they need to. And it’s important to note that there have also been some “up sides” – they’ve learned how to do lots of household chores like cooking dinner, washing dishes, doing laundry, and taking care of the dogs (our version of home economics, I guess).

So, when I’m talking to people about our homeschooling experiences, I’m still honestly able to say that it’s the best decision we ever made. I make sure to let them know that there will be tough days, too, though, and there will definitely be times of doubt, significant doubt, even if they’re not dealing with a chronic illness. Everyone gets the flu or a bad cold sometimes, and there will undoubtedly be other family events that will disrupt things, so it’s okay to just “surf” during these times. You can trust that you’ll get back to a normal routine eventually and, if you’re lucky, maybe your teenager will even be able to bring you dinner!

 

If you enjoyed this article, check out more on the same topic at this month’s

GHF Blog Hop.

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On Goals and Purpose

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One of the great benefits of being a writer and a homeschooling mom is that I have a lot of control over our family’s schedule. This means the boys and I get to take a bunch of time off around the holidays every year to enjoy some time together while we recharge our batteries and prepare for the year to come. And, as we headed back to work and back to school a couple of weeks ago, we decided it would be a good idea to spend some time thinking and talking about our goals and plans for 2017.

It turns out that Hunter S. Thompson was able to provide some helpful ideas that guided us through our discussions. Early in January I re-read the widely-shared letter that he wrote to his friend, Hume Logan, in 1958, and found that Thompson’s wise advice about choosing goals that “conform to the individual” rather than making “the individual conform to the goal” was a useful guidepost, one I thought would be especially relevant for my high schooler. With college (probably) on the horizon for him within the next few years, I’ve noticed that it’s easy to get caught up in the same sort of high-stress planning and goal setting that traditional high school students face when thinking about college: Which classes? How many science labs? How many AP classes? SAT or ACT? What type of extra-curriculars? The hoops are many, and these questions swirl and swirl each time we consider and reconsider, each time getting lost in trying to “conform to the goal.”

Here’s the thing about my family, though: we don’t like to conform.

We have tried, many times, relearning each time that trying to meet others’ expectations makes us stressed and unhappy. And yet, as my boys’ primary teacher and (now) college advisor, I still unexpectedly fall into the trap of trying to follow a narrow set of standard timelines, courses, sequences, and testing schedules, all with the hope that people we don’t even know will someday approve of and validate my boys and their accomplishments, allowing them to pass through to the next set of hoops. But here’s the problem with this kind of thinking: it emphasizes the ideas that what others think is more important than being self-reliant and exercising your own judgment, that being “good” and following all the rules is more important than being independent and authentic. Most of all, it sends the message that personal goals should come from some external source rather than from your own understanding of your unique set of abilities, desires, and goals.

In our culture, it’s easy to grow up believing that there are certain standards we need to measure up to if we want to prove that we are “worthy” or “valuable”, whether these are grades, test scores, athletic accomplishments, acceptance to prestigious universities… the list goes on and on. These standards usually prioritize certain types of intelligence (logical, linguistic, and physical) and ignore other types (artistic, intrapersonal, and existential). As a result, our individual values tend to be based on these external standards, and we get caught in a narrow definition of what success looks like, often at the expense of ignoring what is inherently and authentically true and valuable within each of us, what Thomas Merton would call the “secret beauty of their hearts.” It’s heartbreaking, really. How many people today, right this moment, are suffering because they chose a path that was deemed “acceptable”? How many will never find their true purpose?

If I were to write a job description for myself, at the top of the list of responsibilities would be this: helping my boys recognize and express their “secret beauty” by identifying their particular abilities and desires, all while being guided by compassion, curiosity, and a search for meaning (instead of approval).  Or maybe, more simply and as Hunter S. advised, encouraging them not to “dedicate their lives to reach a pre-defined goal”, but rather to “choose a way of life they know they will enjoy”.  But this leads to an important question:  Am I qualified to do this job?

As the product of twelve years of public education, plus six more years of higher education beyond that, maybe not. It certainly isn’t easy for me. Checklists and schedules, indeed all things measurable, make sense to me, and I find that going back to them when I’m feeling uncertain helps relieve the anxiety that comes with navigating ambiguity (which I’ve written about here). However, when I’m able to remind myself that I’m trying to give my boys a compass, not a map, my job becomes clearer. And, at the very least, I’m willing to be a student right along with them since these are lessons that I’m learning and trying to apply in my own life, too. So, my primary qualification might be that I’ve made the mistake of “conforming to the goal” (and have written about here), and trust that there’s a better way.

As for the specifics of our plans and goals for 2017, I’ll share more about those in an upcoming post, along with some other guideposts we’re using to help us navigate through this year. And a bonus — I’ve finished the final edits on my book about college admissions for homeschoolers, so look for more information on publication dates, plus some excerpts, coming soon!

 

“Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living within that way of life.

The goal is absolutely secondary; it is the functioning toward the goal which is important.”

-Hunter S. Thompson

 

 

Education Revolution Podcast

Homeschool.com PhotoIf you’re like me, the turmoil this week resulting from the recent presidential election has been a little more than distracting. It’s taken me a couple of days, but I’m ready get back to work trying to make a difference for future generations.

So, the timing of the launch of the new Education Revolution Podcast is perfect, and I’m honored to have been one of the first to be interviewed by Jerry Mintz, Executive Director of the Alternative Education Resource Organization.

This first episode includes some insights provided by the Dean of Admissions at Marlboro College, an inside peak at a democratic school from its new principal, and me sharing my top three recommendations for homeschoolers and other non-traditional students who are applying to college.

Here’s the introduction and links to the podcast. Let me know what you think!

Welcome to the first episode of the education revolution podcast. In this episode, Jerry interviews three experts on college admissions about the admission process for alternative students and talks with them about how those students do in college.

You can listen to the podcast here, or subscribe on soundcloud here.

The Podcast can also be found on iTunes, and since most podcast apps pull from the iTunes database most of the popular podcast apps on Android and ios such as Podcast Addict (Android), Pocket Casts (both), and Overcast (ios) will have it. Just search “Education Revolution” and it should pop up. This will allow you to download and take episodes with you wherever you go.

Searching for Shakespeare

youdo-you-2Of all the challenges we face in life, finding our community, our “tribe” is one of the most universal and complicated. This has been a particular problem for me through the years, especially when I was younger and my family moved a lot. It’s been an issue for both of my boys, too, in spite of the fact that we’ve lived in the same town since they were quite young. And even when they were still in public school, finding friends that they really clicked with was always hard. As a mom who wants all good things for her kids, I’ve been somewhat distressed about my sons’ lack of friendships for quite some time, but I finally figured out a solution.

I decided it isn’t a problem.

I know – this goes against the common wisdom that kids need to spend much of their time with other kids and to have lots of friends their own age. We’re used to being uncommon, though. As secular homeschoolers we’re already a minority within a minority, and if you factor in that my boys are not like most other boys, especially my younger son with his emotional and intellectual intensity, not to mention his tendencies toward introversion, the pool of kids who are wired like him is pretty small. In other words, the likelihood that he’s going to find other kids his age who want to sip some tea (ginger peach, please) and discuss Hannibal’s strategic errors during the Punic Wars, or the imagery of Hamlet, is so unlikely, we’ve stopped “searching for Shakespeare”.

To be clear, he does spend time with other kids – he sings and plays guitar in a band, and is heavily involved in the local children’s theater community. It’s just that the other boys he meets are more into heavy metal than opera, and prefer to talk Minecraft over Rumi. So, his connections with them are pleasant and friendly, based on a shared interest, but they’re not what you’d call real friendships. Last year he decided he wanted to try to be better friends with some of the other boys in his theater group, and he started spending more time playing Minecraft so he would have something to talk to them about. It didn’t work. For him it was like wearing a coat that just didn’t fit, and he came home exhausted and discouraged. That’s about the time my husband and I began telling him, “You do you.”

I’m not sure where “You do you” came from, but it certainly sounds like something Shakespeare might have said, doesn’t it? It’s become a kind of mantra in our house now, too – my husband and I say it regularly to both of our boys as we remind them not to spend time trying be like everyone else; we want them to focus on figuring out who they authentically are and what they genuinely love, even if this means they might not fit in. In our opinion, as long as our boys are doing this, there really is no problem.

This isn’t to say that community isn’t important, though. We all need a place to belong, a place where we can be heard, understood, and engage in conversations about Hannibal or Rumi, or whatever our interests are. So, if any of this sounds familiar, if your kids are struggling to find their intellectual peers, too, let me share a few strategies that seem to be working for us: reframing the goal, letting go of the rules, and casting a wider net.

In an era where more “likes” and more Facebook friends are at the top of most people’s list of goals, it’s important to remember that quality trumps quantity. One genuine connection still counts as community, so finding someone who shares our particular intellectual passion is the primary goal for members of our family. And these connections don’t have to be with people of the same age, either. That’s a rule we’ve decided to let go of. My sons’ intellectual peers are often adults, usually family members like aunts, uncles, and grandparents, but sometimes tutors or family friends as well. As they develop and their interests change, my job is to cast a wider net to find others who share their passions and can help continue to engage and challenge them intellectually. We’ve already reached this point with my fifteen-year-old son, who loves building things. We talked the local maker space into letting him become a member even though he’s well below their minimum age, and found a community of wooden boat builders who have embraced him thoroughly. I would guess the average age of the people he’s spending time with at the workshop is at least mid-60s, but that has hardly mattered at all to him, or to them.

I’ll confess that there are often times when one or both of my boys are alone with their interests, and these are the times my husband and I try to fill the gap as much as possible with lots of listening, thoughtful questioning, and encouragement. The good news is that these times often involve lots of tea drinking, interesting field trips, and watching of TED talks. I now know more than I ever could have imagined about war elephants crossing the Alps, and have renewed my acquaintance with Rumi. So, not only isn’t it a problem, it has turned out to be a joy.

 

This post is part of a GHF blog hop. If you liked this topic, you can find related posts here: